michaelanglo-keychain.jpgMy mother never gave me a condom-keyring like this when I was a teenager. Of course, my mother isn’t a former assistant United States attorney, a current St. Louis municipal court judge, an advisor to Missouri’s 22nd Judicial Circuit’s Drug Court, a Planned Parenthood board member, and the wife of the US representative from MO-3.

Meet Debra A. Carnahan:

Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) and his wife, Debra, do not believe in having the traditional sex talk with their two teenage sons. Instead, they argue, it’s an ongoing conversation.

Debra, a municipal judge who sits on the national board of Planned Parenthood, got right to the point with the couple’s 17-year-old. One day she brought him a keychain with a condom on it. He laughed.

“I don’t think he uses it,” Debra says.

Like many parents, the Carnahans want their children to make smart decisions about sex and don’t want them having it too soon. Debra and Russ talk to them about contraception. Debra has them watch TV programs.

“I don’t ever want my sons to have an unwanted pregnancy,” she says. She adds dramatically: “I don’t want my sons to die.” Unlike many parents, the Carnahans are not just ordinary parents trying to figure out how to talk to their children about sex. They serve a higher, more complicated cause: international family planning. Russ’s post on the House Foreign Affairs Committee provides him an ideal perch to address those concerns, while Debra’s role on the Planned Parenthood board offers her a unique position as well.

The Carnahan’s current target in that complicated cause is the infamous Global Gag Rule which prohibits any foreign NGO from receiving US funding if they (a) perform abortions for reasons other than rape, incest, or the life of the mother; (b) provide counseling and referrals for abortions; or (c) lobby on behalf of abortion rights in their country. The results of the GGR have been appalling.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and Population Action International have banded together to form the Global Gag Rule Impact Project. Their research in various developing countries shows not just the failure of the GGR to curtail abortions, but also its negative impacts: closed clinics, drastic cutbacks in community outreach and education programs, elimination of the availability of contraception, increased STDs (including HIV/AIDS) and more.

Russ introduced HR 2367, which would allow funding for contraceptives. (Search THOMAS for the full text of the relatively short bill, and read some sobering stats.) In the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, this exemption was approved earlier this week, and now it goes on to the full committee.

But it’s Debra who has my attention.

“You’ll meet people, heads of state [who say], ‘Oh hi, how are you, you’re the wife,’” says Debra, who served as a district attorney and an assistant U.S. attorney under the Clinton administration. “There’s a sexism there. Sometimes [I’m] dismissed as the tagalong. That does change when people find out I’m a lawyer and a judge.”

How does she handle it? “I push right through it,” she says. “If they are complete jerks, I walk away. The rest of the time I stand there, I start to participate in the conversation. It’s not about proving something. It’s about being who you are and being part of the process and being involved.”

That’s not a bad mantra: Be yourself. Be part of the process. Be involved.

That’s how you save the world. Talk to your kids, your government, and the world. Tell them “the wife” sent you.

(image from the PP of CT store. I don’t know if this is the exact one Debra gave her son, but thought it was fun!)



I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.